Five Essential Packing Tips

Packing for a vacation can be a daunting task.

Follow these expert suitcase packing tips to lighten your load and travel like a pro. 

1. Choose the right luggage

The first step to packing smart is choosing the right luggage. A suitcase and a carry-on bag will provide enough space for everything you’ll need on your vacation. Whether you’ll be gone for a week or a month, a small or medium sized suitcase is best.

With included luggage portage on guided vacations and river cruises, you’ll enjoy the ease of having your suitcase hand-delivered to your room. Just remember that while you won’t be hauling it up the three flights of stairs, you will be carrying it with you at airports. The type of suitcase you choose is really a matter of personal preference. Travel Editor Peter Greenberg weighs the pros and cons of hard and soft shell luggage here. If you’re shopping for a new suitcase, look for something comfortable to pull and easy to lift. The website eBags offers a wide selection of luggage, and you can often find great deals at stores like Marshalls, Ross, and TJ Maxx.

In addition to your suitcase, you’ll need a good bag to take on your flight and use while sightseeing throughout your trip. We find that cross-body bags are a great option on your daily outings.  They’re comfortable to carry, help keep your items safe from potential pickpockets, and transition easily from day to night.  Choose something in a color that goes well with everything, and with enough room to hold your camera or phone, a small water bottle and any extras you may need – such as a hat, scarf, sunglasses, sunscreen or a book to read on the coach.  To keep your items secure, we recommend a bag with a top zipper closure and to keep it at your side or in front of your body at all times.

Love to shop?  If you plan on purchasing things during your trip, bring an expandable bag that can be easily folded and tucked away in your suitcase.  Fill it up with souvenirs, clothes, or gifts as you travel and simply check it at the airport for your return flight home.  If you’ve purchased any fragile items, wrap them in some clothes and bring the bag as your carry-on.

2. Get organized with a packing system for traveling

How you organize your suitcase is just as important as what you put into it.  Handy items like compression sacspacking cubes and mesh bags are indispensable tools that will help you keep things separate, within reach and easy to repack. Determine which type of packing system you prefer and pack each type of item (e.g. shirts and underwear) tightly in their own compartment, so you won't have to dig through your suitcase to find something or constantly refold clothes. There is some debate to the benefits of flat packing versus rolling. It mostly comes down to personal preference; rolling is a good space-saving technique for softer items such as t-shirts and socks, but is less convenient for heavier items such as jackets, or fabrics that tend to wrinkle easily.

3. Pack in layers

Leave bulky pieces at home and opt for lighter pieces you can layer.  Layering will save you space and give you more options for how to dress, particularly in places like Europe where the weather changes frequently.  Bring a scarf, sweater, and a lightweight, rain-proof jacket layer as needed and transition from day to night.  Carry one of these in your bag while sightseeing in case the weather changes or you need to cover yourself at a religious site. If you do bring a warm coat for cooler climates or seasons, wear it on your flight to save room in your suitcase and stay comfortable while you travel.

4. Stick to a color palette

Choosing a color palette will allow you to mix and match everything you bring – so you can pack less and have more options while you’re away.  Neutral colors such as black, white, gray and beige go well together and also look smart.  These colors work especially well in Europe, where you’ll notice that people tend to dress more formally than in the U.S.  Choosing items that are casual yet coordinated will give you a polished look and make you feel at ease in any setting.  Opt for a selection of pieces that work well together and leave anything at home that requires something additional, like a special pair of shoes.  To dress something up or add a bit of flair, consider a fun necklace or brightly colored scarf – things that take up little space and can completely change the look of an outfit.

5. Think minimal

The ultimate key to packing smart is to pack light.  For many of us, this is also the biggest challenge. We convince ourselves that being prepared means bringing everything we’ve ever owned – just in case.  This leads to the common traveler affliction of over-packing. To eliminate extra bulk and wasted space, identify your most comfortable and versatile clothing items and then narrow down your top choices.  Next, create a packing list and stick to it.  Put together your outfits and wear them at home for a week.  Can you mix and match your pieces to create several combinations?  Can you add or remove layers depending on the weather?